Legal malpractice dismissal based on statute of limitations affirmed.

Where the substance of a complaint sounded in legal malpractice, and the complaint was filed more than one year after plaintiff should have been aware that he had been injured by the alleged negligence, judgment on the pleadings for defendants was affirmed.

In Houbbadi v. Kennedy Law Firm, PLLC, No. M2022-01166-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2024), plaintiff filed a complaint against the law firm and lawyers that had previously represented him in a divorce and order of protection proceeding. In his complaint, plaintiff asserted that defendants defrauded plaintiff when he hired them, failed to represent plaintiff in good faith, and agreed to a continuance when they should not have. Plaintiff argued that defendants’ failure to move for him to have exclusive possession of the marital residence led to him returning to the house and murdering his wife.

The trial court granted defendants judgment on the pleadings, ruling that to the extent plaintiff claimed breach of contract and fraud, those claims were not pled with sufficient particularity, and to the extent he claimed legal malpractice, the claim was time barred. The ruling for defendants was affirmed on appeal.

The Court of Appeals began its analysis by finding that, although plaintiff titled his claims as being for breach of contract and fraud, “the substance of the allegations sound in legal malpractice.” The Court pointed out that plaintiff’s claims all related to his allegation that defendants’ “conduct fell below the appropriate professional standard of care,” and that all his claims centered on plaintiff taking “issue with the manner in which [defendants] executed the representation.” Because the complaint sounded in legal malpractice, the suit was subject to a one-year statute of limitations, regardless of whether it was “based in contract or tort.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-3-104(c)(1).

Having determined that a one-year statute of limitations applied, the Court next considered when plaintiff should have “known about his purported cause of action.” The trial court had ruled that plaintiff knew about the agreement to continue the order of protection hearing in October 2018, and knew that defendants had not moved for plaintiff to have exclusive possession of the home in that same month. These events occurred more than three years before this complaint was filed. Moreover, plaintiff’s assertion that he did not discover the agreement to continue the hearing until 2020 was countered by the fact that he cited that agreement and extension in a December 2019 filing in his criminal case. Even by his own admission, however, plaintiff knew about the agreement to continue by December 7, 2020, and the instant matter was not filed until December 14, 2021, more than one year later. Judgment for defendants based on the statute of limitations was therefore affirmed.

This opinion was released four months after this case was assigned on briefs.

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